This article was originally written for Twentysomething News, a news/opinion website with contributions written by people in their 20s, published 21 July 2020.
On the evening of 6 July 2020, I wrote one of my typical tweets – reasonably noisy and unapologetically giving my opinion. I use Twitter to express my feelings and share that of others, a public diary, if you will. When I woke up the next day, it had 2,000 likes. I immediately rang my friend to let her know sh*t was kicking off. Within 48 hours it had reached over 5 million people.
The tweet string read as follows:
"I read a post on Instagram a few days ago from one of the girls who owns a salon where I get my brows done which explained how the lockdown easement is one entirely based around the wants and needs of men, and I haven’t stopped thinking about it. Pubs, barbers and footie back on…
No salons opening for women to access beauty treatments (all highly sterile environments with limited people in a building at once). Sports teams getting tested for matches yet teachers (3/4 of whom are women) aren’t being offered the same. Pregnant women are having to deal with going to scans alone even now despite being able to meet up and go to a cinema. People were going to the shop unlimited times a week or going to work because the Government allowed businesses to drag workers back prematurely if “it was not possible to work from home"...
Where was this leniency for women who were forced to go through child birth with no loved ones around? I can’t find any info regarding the representation women in the group of people who have devised the UK’s Covid-19 Recovery Plan, but I’d be hella interested to see how many women were present and how much of a voice they had in influencing decisions."
This was met with waves of both support and disagreement. The demographic of those objecting was overwhelmingly male – some constructive debate was given, but most was a sea of name calling and attempts to undermine a young blonde woman who dared to have an opinion.
Three days after writing, the next announcement came from the Culture Secretary, Oliver Dowden. Beauticians are allowed to reopen from 13 July 2020, but are not allowed to offer services that work in the “highest risk zone”; defined as ‘the area in front of the face’. The long list of excluded treatments include face waxing, eyelash or eyebrow treatments and make up application. However ‘beard services should be limited to simple beard trims’ (British Beauty Council).
So, facial wax treatments are not allowed, with a mainly female clientele, but a man can have his beard trimmed – what is the material difference? Lots of the treatments listed as 'high risk' could be undertaken with both the beautician and client wearing a face mask, but it would be pretty difficult for a man to have his beard trimmed wearing a mask, wouldn’t it? It seems as though Caroline Nokes’ (Conservative MP for Romsey and Southampton North) cross-party letter calling for the beauty industry to be reopened in a Covid-secure way had been disregarded.
I spoke to Dr Radford, a qualified medical doctor specialising in botox, fillers and skin rejuvenation about the Government’s approach. He explained that 100% of the treatments he offers cannot be carried out under the current rules. We discussed the laughter between William Wragg (MP for Hazel Grove) and the Prime Minister in the House of Commons as they joked about the beauty industry – Dr Radford explained that this is a classic demonstration of the stigmatisation of non-medical professionals and the beauty industry itself as trivial. He told me about the compelling impact of certain beauty treatments which have been entirely overlooked, such as areola and eyebrow tattooing for breast cancer and chemotherapy patients. I’m not sure many people would find that a laughing matter.
So, if the economy is so important to the Government’s policy on Covid, how can the beauty industry still be shut when it contributed £28.4 billion to GDP in 2018? I think this demonstrates how the perception of the beauty industry is frivolous, along with its 94% female workforce.
The way we come out of the lockdown should be assessed entirely on risk to public health. What I really want to know is, why can I have my hair cut, including a beard trim, but not other beauty treatments when they bear a similar risk? Then you might think, well actually, is this about risk at all? And my answer is no.
Boris Johnson boldly claims that the Government’s strategy is “led by science”. I disagree, along with over 100 UK based scientists who wrote an open letter to the Government warning against its plans to ease lockdown measures. The easing of lockdown is led by economics, hence why I can go to the pub. A blatantly unsterile environment where people are guaranteed to be uncontrollable. It really was not a shock when headlines on Sunday 5 July 2020 said “drunk people cannot social distance” (The Guardian/Sky News/ITV News, the list goes on). Pubs are open because of their contribution to the economy. Salons remain closed because there’s a lack of consideration within Government for the beauty industry.
So how else has the easing of lockdown overlooked the wants and needs of women?
Pregnant women have been advised to limit contact with people from outside their household and rigidly follow social distancing. Initially, women were told to arrive at pregnancy scans alone and some even gave birth without a partner or loved ones present. Now, rules are more relaxed and it seems as though more women are able to bring partners/loved ones to scans and the birth.
Rightly so, appointments and visits to hospitals/doctors have been heavily regulated, but pregnancy is unique in so many ways: the emotional, physical, mental and hormonal implications are so significant for the carrier of the baby. In New Zealand, women were encouraged to have regular remote consultations with midwives throughout the pregnancy and were allowed one person with them during scans and childbirth. New Zealand’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern, is the second elected leader in the world to have given birth whilst in office, and I believe her leadership has and does show how having women in top ranks of government influences policies into considering women as a whole.
Men will have missed out on pivotal moments in lockdown pregnancies too. This is an example of how sexism harms both men and women.
One hundred days into lockdown the Premier League returned. The Women’s Super League was abandoned, despite being the exact same sport with the exact same risk.
The precautionary measures put in place to make the Premier League safe to begin again were impressive. No audience and regular testing to be carried out on players and staff (1,973 tests were carried out from 29 June to the 5 July). Despite the rules, there are still multi-player goal celebrations, spitting on the pitch and high fives. These are against the Guidelines, but not bookable offences. Beauticians, if caught offering treatments illegally, face fines and potential prison sentences. Off the pitch, matches have led to situations that have risked increasing the infection rate. Women were going to pregnancy scans on their own, yet pissed up Liverpool fans were flooding the streets in celebration of Willian scoring the winning goal against City.
Whilst putting myself at risk of accusations that I am enforcing the exact stereotypes that feminism seeks to quash, it cannot be denied that the reopening of the Premier League will be watched by more men than women. Sports with a less gender-skewed audience, or other forms of entertainment such as the theatre or music industry have not yet reopened. Is this a conscious decision? No. Is this the result anyway? Yes.
Like players in the Premier League, my friend, a teacher of 5 and 6 years olds at a local primary school was told she would be returning to work as of 1 June 2020 when some primary school years reopened. Unlike the Premier League, the Government have not implemented a blanket requirement that teachers be regularly tested when providing the public service of educating the next generation.
Over 148 people who work in education had died from coronavirus by 26 June 2020 (this is the most up to date statistic from www.ons.gov.uk). Figures from June 2020 show that over 300 NHS workers have died from coronavirus (ITV News). To put these numbers into perspective, the UK lost 179 servicemen and women during the Iraq Campaign (BBC News). Significantly more NHS staff have died during the pandemic than soldiers in the Iraq War. We should be horrified by that fact.
Both the education and healthcare sectors are heavily dominated by women, with 82.4% of primary school teachers and 77% of NHS workers being female. There are clear and obvious differences between the Premier League as a billionaire private employer and the State. The point is, the Government has not adequately fulfilled its duty to protect the public’s health. Women dominate the frontline workers in the pandemic and the State was unable to provide sufficient safeguards.
Women are underrepresented in the top positions in almost every sector (as of June 2019, only 7% of FTSE 100 companies had a female chief executive officer). Given the disregard for science in the Government’s policy regarding the easing of lockdown, which starkly contrasts with countries such as Germany, New Zealand, Finland, Norway and Taiwan, responsibility can be attributed to the decision makers at the top. The Government can and will overpower SAGE in the decision making process. Look how England’s Chief Nurse, Ruth May, was dropped from the daily briefings after she refused to support Dominic Cummings’ trip to Durham. This demonstrated clearly the political nature of the Government’s handling of the pandemic rather than a reliance on expertise.
Therefore we should analyse the Executive branch of our government, the Cabinet. Only 6 out of 22 members are women. It took over three weeks before the only woman in Government to have led a BBC daily briefing, Priti Patel, took the stand.
I am not saying that the decision makers in our Government are sexist pigs, going out of their way to make sure women do not benefit from the easing of lockdown (although I’m not saying that no one in the Cabinet is sexist – some might be inclined to tell me to “watch my tone” right about now). What this article is really trying to put across is that the demographic of our Government is causing male-centric policies that overlook the wants and needs of women. Unconscious bias needs to be recognised in order for it to be challenged.
In the words of Caroline Criado Perez, ‘when we are designing a world that is meant to work for everyone we need women in the room’. (Invisible Women: Exposing Data Bias in a World Designed for Men, pg. XIII) We need women in the room, and we need women to be listened to.
With thanks to Dr Adam Radford for giving me a professional insight into the beauty industry and the effects of the pandemic on his work.